Monday, November 17, 2008

Last Verse

It’s done. The Ballad ends, the lights come up, the guys in burgundy vests start sweeping up the empty Sour Patch Kids bags and old maid popcorn kernels. It’s likely obvious that I never meant the comic story below to take a full year away from the blog. I lost no enthusiasm or drive for writing criticism, but felt it more important to stick to the obnoxiously long project until done was done. So: it is done.

I’m just as curious as you (okay, far more curious) about the moment Marlene Dietrich is explaining a critic’s responsibilities vis-à-vis symbolism and interpretation — is the pillar phallic, fecal, an inverted grave symbol or spiritual ascension? How does the fall from an urban tower parallel the Aurora King Kong model? But no: I’m not going to analyze or comment on my own work (which was self absorbed enough), though I’m happy to join any discussion. I’ll let it speak for itself, though it’s clearly not just an essay, and…

I learned a lot about cartooning, as well as writing. That, I’ll talk about.

Lesson One: comics storytelling is labor intensive. Labor intensive enough that it was supposed to be a dashed-off one-month project, took longer than anyone’s attention could reasonably span. Writing, well, I can write anywhere, but the physical requirement of sitting at the drafting table for days just to create a page of content makes long comics stories antithetical to blogging. Or at least unfeasible for the compulsive crosshatcher. Related verdict then, in the matter of Comics Can Do Anything: they can do anything, including film criticism, but it is a lot of work.

Lesson Two: Around the time Maila Nurmi passed away, I learned to use a crow quill pen. I switched primary inking tools for the first time in ten years, ditching a massive collection of temperamental and insensitive technical pens. That sloppy Vampira portrait is straight from the sketchbook as I learned to handle a dip pen. The learning curve was… curvy… and worth it. Real men ink with Hunt 102 nibs. Real men who can’t handle brushes, anyway. I’m working on the brushes.

In some ways, I feel ExKin’s 2008 has just started, right now. I’m aware that with “Ballad” I’ve lost the small audience I had amassed. Standard practice blogging is fueled by a steady stream of brief, informal posts and ensuing open discussion; Exploding Kinetoscope is rarely about any of those things. I doubt that will change, but it should be busy; I’ve cooked up dozens of pieces in the meanwhile.

The title itself, half lit-crit joke and half intended to sidestep premature criticism that I was being a jerk (i.e. – “hey, you can’t know where I’m going with this until I’m done”), was not intended to stave off any discussion of the piece. In private communiqués, I got the feeling it might’ve been a side effect. That’s Lesson Three.

At any rate, I officially open the comment section below for Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle discussion.


Janani said...

Well, I'll jump in. As a warn, I have no specific lit-crit approach. My way of diving in is a little musical, a little mythopoetic, pretty intuitive. I tend to feel for pulses, rhythms, lulls, cadences, resolutions, turning points, releases.

Today I read Ted Hughes's intro to Sylvia Plath's diary. Sez Ted: "One can compare what was really going on in her to a process of alchemy. Her apprentice writings (fictions, pre-Ariel experiments) were like impurities thrown off from the various stages of the inner transformation, byproducts of the internal work...." This reminded me strongly of your main character-fellow, whom I will call, sort of as a joke but sort of seriously, Wrangl. He starts off imprisoned in a particular location and time period (U.S.A., 2007) and ends released into no-time and no-space ("measure by beginning anywhere.") He begins alone and raving to himself, then encounters male and female (and monstrous, but friendly) mentors who seduce, torture, and finally soothe him. His journey is launched on torrents of words and ends in silence, a preverbal (or post-verbal?) equilibrium where the visual > the word. By the end, his old world (echoed so nicely with that blog banner) is completely recontextualized, its borders blown open.

The rising pillar/tower: in storyworld I take events like this at face value. It's dream-geodynamics, it's earth science except the movements are psychic, the metamorphoses more slippery and the the range of outcomes wackier. What if Wrangl and Marlene had gone nowhere? Not possible - too much going on and building up in that conversation. What if they'd sunk into the earth? Also not possible...their chat isn't boring though crust and mantle, it's not a mining- or digging-conversation, it's not intimacy. It's a flight from earth, it's preparing Wrangl for insight and violent transition. He's going somewhere more rarefied, more precarious, more unstable and insupportable, riskier...where he could die. He grows more isolated with Marlene, potential energy increases, panorama widens, views and possibilities open up but also overwhelm. Phallic? Yes, in the sense that conversations like that are often aphrodisiac, pushing us to places beyond our control, to various brinks...and Marlene does take the dress off. It's a sexually tinged intellectual ascent, and the fall that follows expresses perfectly the sensation of sudden understanding, epiphany, surrender of former certainties, surrender to something beyond logos, beyond a "dull stupid roar," beyond verbal monsterbation. (The picture says 1000 words, and all that).

Visual storytelling notes: I'm a poor comic/visual art critic. Detailwise, I found a few of the hands a little funky, but hands are bitches, right? Otherwise, this thing got prettier and prettier as it went along. The only part that baffled a little was Pt. 2 - it seemed a bit time-killing, but, given the care with which this thing has been laid out, I can't believe it to be. I wondered if it could be switched around with the more lyrical Pt. 1, but then that might have been a too obviously bitchy way to kick off the story. By the end of 3, given the direction of the story and Wrangl's evolution, I was expecting the 9-panel format to dissolve to something more luxurious and expansive - larger panels, or even one enormous, glorious final panel. I think that gorgeous mask in the final panel deserved a page all to itself. But that would be even more work. Drawing, it is not so EZ as typing.

Speaking of monsterbation...I'm done.

YAHOO! Now tell us the best movies of 2007 and 2008!

Janani said...

And, I don't know what the Aurora King King model is. What's it?

Aram said...

I'm not a literary critic in any way shape or form. I like to read it, but hey, I travel by airplane too, but I couldn't explain for the life of me how a Boeing 777 stays in the air. But I'm getting off track.

As someone who is currently pursuing the ridiculous dream of trying to draw pictures for a living, I understand entirely your assesment of the medium. I can type nearly as fast as I can think, but doing cross-shading on backgrounds nine times a page? Sloths cross the road faster.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the story and the pictures. The waits in-between were pretty harrowing, but the new posts were of course that much more rewarding for it.

Good job, Stangl.

Chris Stangl said...

Hey guys; I apparently needed a celebratory drink that lasted several days.

Aram- Thanks for the kind words, and yes, the whole enterprise just took longer than the story or what I was aiming to say could support. Anyone aiming to do something similar might consider drawing several pages worth of lead time to help quicken the publishing pace.

Janani- The Aurora Plastics Corporation produced a series of model kits based on Universal monster character licenses in the 1960s. They are beloved and iconic collectables for Baby Boomer Monster Kids and those of us who should have been. The King Kong model with glow-in-the-dark parts can be seen sitting on a desk in my den, in the Hermet's cave/ Dracula's castle on pg. 12, or at Buc Wheat’s Modeling World

Most people would rather show off the non-glowing version, as viewable at CultTVMan’s Fantastic Modeling, a must-bookmark site for any of us afflicted with this terminal dorkiness.

Anyhows, the Ted Hughes comment is interesting to me. On one hand as a backhanded compliment it demonstrates an unbecoming hostility and immaturity as his wife's literary executor. On the other hand it is true for every artist working up to their magnum opus. Animator Ollie Johnston said everyone has 100,000 bad drawings in them so you'd better get it out of your system as fast as possible.

On the third hand/ eye, that's sort of the story, such as it is: working through bad ideas to get at the place where your truth lives. And I think it's an endearing shortcoming of the blog format, which encourages a lot of half-considered posting and public working-through of ideas which might be better expressed through polished, thoroughly considered pieces. That's a main thrust of Pt. II which is far too slight a statement to justify a three-month waiting period, but I needed to say; I've seen hundreds of bloggers suffer the same crisis of Why Am I Doing This? faith, and maybe that's something like my answer.

On a fourth hand, the one that guides us to invisible places beyond, I noticed late in the game that alchemic study had probably imprinted on my dream self (those are for-reals dreams though stitched together in a rational state), replete with a journey through air, earth, fire and water. The few offhanded tarot referents in Pt. III added up to a more thorough Adept's journey than intended at first blush. Plus there's a mistake, misstep or bad drawing on every page, and less so as the piece progresses. So hey, unintended thematic bonus.

For those that don't know, which is everyone, the inciting incident of the text message on pg. 1 is Janani admonishing me for not updating Exploding Kinetoscope. So thanks for that J, and the next post is absolutely the catalogue of favorite films of 2007.